July 2015
Farm & Field

A Rolling Success

Levy Geyer, USDA marketing specialist, gives instructions to the tour group at the New Holland stable in Pennsylvania.  

Small Ruminant Tour explored current marketing channels for sheep and goat producers.

A tour aimed at exploring current marketing channels used by sheep and goat producers in the Northeast United States united about 80 participants from Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. The educational tour allowed producers to learn more about different marketing channels. The group was formed by 75 producers from Alabama and Tennessee, producer members of the Mississippi Meat Goat Producer Cooperative and five Extension educators. This was a five-day Marketing Small Ruminants Educational Tour conducted May 22-26, 2015. The educational tour was sponsored by the grant awarded from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Dr. Maria Leite-Browning, Alabama Cooperative Extension System-Urban Affairs and New Nontraditional Programs, and the co-PI institutions: Dr. Cassandra Vaughn, Alcorn State University; and Dr. Richard Browning Jr., Tennessee State University.

The participants learned how to improve live-grading skills and evaluate the condition of their animals to satisfy targeted markets. They also had the opportunity to network with buyers, auction barns and livestock haulers in the Northeast.

The first stop of the educational tour was in Tazwell, Tenn., at a 600-plus purebred Katahdin sheep farm owned by James and Joann England. England provided the group with the benefits of raising Katahdin sheep, discussed risks and his marketing strategy. An in-depth discussion of mortality composting was also provided. While the meat goats are sold to local markets, his lambs are sold at an auction in Columbia, Tenn.

Then the group visited the Tennessee countryside near Tazwell to tour the Katahdin/Dorper-cross hair sheep operation owned by Rodney Fugate and his sons. Fugate discussed the benefits of sun hemp as a forage choice. Fugate sells lamb directly to local restaurants in Tennessee.

On Saturday, the group spent the day at the Vanguard Ranch in Gordonsville, Va., a commercial Kiko and Myotonic goat operation managed by Renard Turner. The tour included an outdoor lunch of Turner’s famous goat kabobs from his food truck. Turner explained how he built a niche market for goat burgers, kabobs and curry by using his food truck where ethnic festivals and fairs are held. He further provided members with valuable information on holistic farming practices, organic farming methods, breed selection, culling and forage production.

On Sunday, the group had a free day of rest or could tour Skyline Caverns and Manassas National Battlefield Park.

As the group traveled into rural Pennsylvania, they were amazed at the widespread diversity and scope of agricultural practices in the countryside.

Upon arrival in New Holland, Pa., on Monday, the group spent the evening attending the New Holland Sales Stables goat and sheep auction, one of the largest in Northeast United States with over 225,000 head sold annually. The New Holland Sales Stables tour was coordinated by Levi Geyer, supervisory market news reporter for the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. Geyer also took the group to a nearby goat holding and buying facility, and explained the goat-grading process. Geyer explained how it took careful strategic planning coupled with excellent access for shipping to major U.S. cities such as Washington, Baltimore, Providence, Boston, Philadelphia and New York City to make the buying yard and sales stables profitable due to close proximity to those diverse ethnic markets.

The tour ended on Tuesday with an 18-hour bus ride home. A key benefit to members was the opportunity to network with their peers in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee coupled with the expertise of the Extension specialists and farmers visited. Members left with renewed enthusiasm, a plethora of ideas and shared interest in pooling resources to increase small-ruminant-production goals.

Dr. Maria Lenira Leite-Browning is the Extension animal scientist (sheep and goats) with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Alabama A&M University, and the PI of the grant.

Dr. Jeff Posey owns and operates Five Oaks Farm in Lincoln County, Miss., with his wife Joanna where they have 27 head of Boer-crosses and experiment with forages such as serecia lespedeza, chicory and forage soybeans in a silvopasture land management model.

Elizabeth Myles identifies potential markets and link buyers with farmers. She provides education, training and outreach in marketing to farmers in Mississippi. She grew up on a farm in Claiborne County, Miss., and assists with the cow-and-calf operation.